Do you guys remember ever seeing that movie, Pay it Forward? It has the scary kid from The Sixth Sense in it – along with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. I am dating myself because I realized that both of those movies are now from the year 2000… ok… I’m old.
Regardless the concept is that one person can change the world by bestowing kindness upon one other person…who then does something to help someone else… as long as that person continues to do one kind thing to another person in return for the good bestowed upon them, the goodness ripples out in an exponential fashion.
While the movie is utopian by nature, I actually get to witness this exact phenomenon in my day-to-day life as an oncologist. One of the most inspiring things to me is watching not only the bravery and strength that my patients demonstrate while going through treatment… but in how they reach out to others afterwards. Rather than just settling back into a normal routine and putting the past behind them, they willingly re-visit the trauma and the trials of going through chemotherapy, surgeries, and radiation, by talking about it and supporting others going through the same thing.
This week I started a 20-year-old woman on our aggressive chemotherapy, who I will call Angela. The hardest thing for her and for her family to accept about the months ahead for her was that she would lose her long, beautiful dark hair. I was reminded of a previous patient I took care of last year, who was a model, who I will call Marissa. She came to terms with the physical changes to her body, and had even had a friend do an absolutely gorgeous photo shoot of her, bald, and just as stunning as she was before starting chemotherapy. Marissa came to see me this week for surveillance scans, where she was found to be in remission. After our visit, she went down the hall to meet Angela, and showed her the beautiful photos that were taken when she had lost her hair. They exchanged phone numbers and when I later came by to see Angela, she had completely changed. Gone were the tears and anxiety, and instead was a sense of peace and confidence that she, too, would be ok, and that she had the inner strength to combat what lay ahead.
I have another young patient who I’ll call Michael. His battle is going on every day, as he’s still receiving treatment and struggling with his own symptoms from his sarcoma. But somehow he has the ability to look past himself, and reach out to others. He connected with another one of my patients with his same disease, and they’re currently swapping awareness bracelets and T-shirts from each of their respective teams of family and friends. He chats on Facebook with people he has never met, sharing his own experience and offering advice and reassurance through his own faith in the bigger purpose behind all of the chaos.
Despite our best efforts, the medical teams who spend every day treating patients with cancer cannot even come close to offering this expertise. A few words from someone who has walked the walk have a greater impact than hours of counseling and certainly more than objective scientific evidence and statistics. So in this, I want to thank all of those patients and advocates who have volunteered their own personal time, money, and energy to set up Facebook group pages, to grow foundations that raise awareness and share quality information, to push researchers and doctors to focus their efforts on a rare disease despite the lack of potential fame or funding, and to spend Saturdays revisiting their own stories at awareness events. These mammoth efforts started just like Pay it Forward, by reaching out to one other person, and have impacted thousands throughout the world. As the boundaries in our world come down, thanks to social media and the internet, I truly believe that in a few years sarcoma will not be that random “cancer-of-what?” without a name or face. But it will happen because of the individuals who won’t let the war stop after they have won their own battle.